Painting a Chair- What Am I Doing Wrong?

Updated on September 09, 2011
T.C. asks from Round Rock, TX
11 answers

My son is painting a chair for an art project. He painted a design using acrylic craft paint and interior latex paint. Then he drew some lines with a sharpie. The plan was to put a clear coat on next to protect it. But the clear coat is turning out all wrong! We had 2 different cans of oil-based clear coat. They're not new, but I thought they would be OK. But it's brownish instead of clear. The sharpie smeared. After 24 hours of drying it's still soft enough to scrape off with my fingernail. And the coat we put on today crackled! What am I doing wrong? He does not want to sand it down and start over....

ETA: So can we put a different clear coat over the old one? or is it too late?

He really, really, really does not want to start over. So we are going to just run with the antique look. Highlight the parts that crackled and then add another layer of clear coat. But this time using only the full can and stirring a lot more thoroughly than last time and then drying in the hot sun. The crackle seems to have been from the part we did with the almost empty can. It claimed it would dry enough for a 2nd coat in 2 hours, but apparently did not. He still has a couple of weeks to finish it.
It gets worse! Somehow I could not tell by reading the can that this is a LACQUER finish. The web site says one of the "great" features of Clear Wood Finish is its ability to melt into the previous coat, forming a chemical bond. In other words, every time we paint a new coat on, the whole thing gets soft and sludgy all over again. I'm trying to convince my son that we should just scrape off the goo with a plastic scraper(which won't take off the acrylic layer underneath). Arghh!!

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So What Happened?

We added more coats of clear lacquer, and I sanded down the worst wrinkles. A little lumpy but we can live with it. He decided to add a tail to go with the cat theme. He told me we had to follow the exact same process so it would match. White paint, new clear coat, old clear coat, new clear coat(this is where the wrinkles start) then dark stain, then more clear coat.
Updated 9/14 *I have added the picture as my profile picture

Featured Answers


answers from Los Angeles on

You used an oil-based clear coat over acrylic and latex, big no-no. Sounds as if he has no choice but to sand it down, start over and use a water-based clear coat. Sorry.

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answers from Honolulu on

You are using acrylic and latex paint.
Then using an oil-based clear coat.
You need to use a "Varathane" type clear coat.
Spray or can.
You are currently using the wrong type of clear coat.
It is yellowing, because possibly it is too thick.

Do not use an oil based clear coat.
It is totally different, from a latex based paint or acrylic paint... which is water based.
It also dries, differently than an oil based paint or lacquer.

You need to use, ALL the same medium of paint.
Water based latex or acrylic and clear coat or Varathane which is also water based. It is a water based polyurethane clear coat.

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answers from Rochester on

It already sounds like you need to start over. You shouldn't be using an oil based cover...for one, oil based paints take a REALLY long time to dry. I have oil painted most of my life, and just an oil paint can take over a year to fully dry.

I would suggest using a polyurethane clear coat or just clear spray paint that isn't oil based.

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answers from Austin on

You should try to buff it off & start over. My hubby ran into the same problem painting his wooden boat that he built. He said that you should use either spray paint or use black nylon bristle brush to paint it on. Also, acrylic paint is water based so it may not work on certain surfaces. He said that sometimes the type of brush you use can tint the clear coat. My husband said that for himself, his problem was that he put woodstain on first & the brush 'dragged' it into the clearcoat & it turned it brown then he dipped the brush in the clearcoat & turned the whole can of liquid brown. While our problem is a bit different, he said for you to try the spray paint or use the black bristle brush. For the design you should use stencil paint & sharpie markers will smear on some surfaces so I'd advise using a colored pencil instead, they do make 'paint pencils' too so maybe that will work better for you. If you just don't want to try & buff it off, try just spray painting over it then use stencil paint for the design. We do arts & crafts all the time & sometimes we run into things like this & just learn from them so I hope our mistake & correcting it will help you! Good luck! & feel free to write if you need or want any other info or advice, we'd be more than happy to try & help figure it out w/you.

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answers from Seattle on

For your ETA: No. You can't.

Not only have you already caused one bad chemical reaction, creating a 3rd chem reaction would be a reeeeeally bad idea. The oil based topcoat is already melting your latex & acrylic (and offgassing some pretty toxic fumes). Putting on a poly coat on top is just going to make a big sludgy toxic mess.

Put on goggles and masks and sand it down.


((DO take photos, though))

And hey... it's a learning process!

((Just as an FYI; oil takes a bare minimum of 48 hours in dry weather to "dry". But it actually takes 12 to *mostly* dry, and over 50 years to totally dry. Art history types judge the authenticity of real v forged works by the amount of cracking in the paint... because the amount and ways that the paint has cracked is one way to judge age. One level of cracking is 50 years, another is over 100 years, etc. Forgers "bake" art in different ways to get the cracking that the age of the painting needs... but even then there are microscopic -or macro- 'tells' in many of these processes. So maybe your son can get extra credit pulling up a little bit of research on acrylic v oil, chemical reactions, and forgeries! Fun stuff.))

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answers from San Francisco on

The problem was using oil-based clear coat. You should have used water-based. It dries quickly. Oil-based anything dries slowly. Don't ever use oil-based products unless there is a really good reason.

I think at this point you should just let it be crackled and brownish. It doesn't need to be a work of art.

Per a response below: You CAN use oil-based over latex or acrylic, but oil based is just a pain in the butt. What you can't do is use latex or acrylic over oil.

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answers from College Station on

You do not have to start over. BUT, acrylics are water based and your varnish is oil based. Oil based products take weeks, even years to cure! Yes, they really do!

I would lightly sand the coat you have already done (you should sand in between coats anyway) with 220 grit sand paper, wipe it down to get rid of the dust and then put on your 2nd and 3rd coats of NEW varnish, sanding with 220 paper in between.

You can accent the "antiqued" parts with some watered down black or brown paint before your start your 2nd coat.

Good luck and it sounds like an interesting project

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answers from Austin on

You are combining too many different properties. You need to stick with all oil based or all latex based or all acrylic based. The sharpie will not be a problem on any of those. I suggest you get all oil based if you want it to be functional.



answers from Houston on

It sounds like the clear coat you used was not the correct one for that type of project. When I work on decorative finishes on wood I use a clear coat specific for craft/art projects. There is one in a spray can that works great for large projects, then I use a small jar one for small projects that dries crystal clear and hard.

I also would suggest to either try and scrape it off to see if you can save the decorative stuff, or sand and start over. So sorry what a bummer!


answers from St. Louis on

Yup what she said....



answers from Victoria on

if its not dry after twenty four hours i would say it was a bust. you can try to spray a clear coat and see if that bindes everything up. best thing for you to do is ask someone at a Sherwin-Williams store. Lowes is also helpful. If the clear soat is brown i think its kind of old or its picking up the sharpie marker and smearing turning some parts brown.

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